Field Report: Costa Rica

Tarrazú view

Tarrazú view

Coffee travel tends to get over romanticized. Green coffee buyers are not heroic adventurers scouring jungles and scaling mountains in hopes of discovering hidden coffee gold. Green coffee sourcing is a collaborative process with multiple players working together. So, there were of course no rainbows or unicorns when I arrived in San José, Costa Rica, just Lalo holding a sign with my hotel’s logo. I dusted the rust off my Spanish chatting with Lalo while we waited for a few more American roasters to arrive. Thus began my first coffee buying trip - waiting around at the airport.

Royal Coffee New York, a green coffee importer, organized the trip in conjunction with Sustainable Trading Company (STC), an exporter in Costa Rica. The goal of this annual trip is to visit farms, cup microlots, and connect buyers with coffee. Over four days, we cupped close to 100 coffees and they were just plain fantastic. My fellow roasters and I all found and purchased tasty lots.

Group shot at STC headquarters

Group shot at STC headquarters

But, it was much more than a simple coffee buying trip. We shared meals and beers with producers and put faces and handshakes with names and places. We tend to talk to our immediate neighbors in the coffee supply chain (we do business with them on a daily basis after all), but when we engage in conversation with people further up or down the supply chain, we see coffee with an expanded perspective. The real value of travel to origin is the shrinking and humanizing effect it has on the supply chain.

ASOPROAAA mill manager Carlos Monge offering up some limon dulce

ASOPROAAA mill manager Carlos Monge offering up some limon dulce

Jorge Monge owner of Finca La Fila in his element

Jorge Monge owner of Finca La Fila in his element

We cupped coffee each morning at the STC headquarters in San Jose. The coffees, from four distinct regions (Tarrazú, West Valley, Central Valley, and Brunca), represented the full spectrum of processing methods, from washed to natural, and various types of honey processes in between. Processing at the micromill level is the central story of the modern Costa Rican coffee industry. This trend has been dubbed the “Micromill Revolution,” and it’s led to innovations in processing, higher value for farmers, and best of all, interesting new flavor profiles.

Cupping at STC

Cupping at STC

Coffee drying on raised parabolic drying beds at ASOPROAAA

Coffee drying on raised parabolic drying beds at ASOPROAAA

We visited a variety of mills and farms over three days. The tiny micromill Beneficio Genesis, perched high on a ridge near the town of Naranjo, stood out to me. The coffees from Oscar Mendez’s Genesis mill distinguished themselves on the cupping table and it was a real treat to visit and put a face and a place with the taste. ASOPROAAA, a micromill servicing a co-op in the famed Tarrazú region, was another personal highlight. The mill is nestled in the mountains of Tarrazú and the view from the drying patios is unreal - seemingly endless rugged mountains. ASOPROAAA is well known for their microlots as well as their larger blended co-op lot (our summer seasonal blend will feature the larger ASOPROAAA lot).

Oscar Mendez's grandson balancing next to Beneficio Genesis drying patio

Oscar Mendez's grandson balancing next to Beneficio Genesis drying patio

Honey process coffee drying on raised beds at Beneficio Genesis

Honey process coffee drying on raised beds at Beneficio Genesis

Finally, after all the cupping and touring, we chose the coffees we wanted to buy. Narrowing down to a final selection from so many great coffees was difficult, but I ultimately landed on two great coffees. They should arrive at the port of New York in June and they will hit our offering sheet soon after that! Keep an eye out for more info about the coffees as it gets closer to release time.

Friendly pup at ASOPROAAA

Friendly pup at ASOPROAAA